The commuter experience

by Natalie Rajha

Commuter students have long felt isolated on campus, often overlooked by UCLA. Whether it’s their inability to join clubs and attend events due to them occurring at late hours, or difficulties selecting courses as they try to limit their commute to two to three days a week, many UCLA commuters struggle to feel like part of the community that most students experience on campus.

Who Counts as a Commuter?

As identified by UCLA, a commuter is a student who has to commute using some form of transportation five or more miles to get to campus. There are numerous reasons why a student may choose commuting over alternative living situations, whether for particular financial reasons or personal reasons.

Meet some Bruin Commuters:

Mary Salmastyan, a fourth-year transfer student majoring in sociology and minoring in anthropology commutes from Glendale. She said it “didn’t make any sense for me to live on campus,” also mentioning that UCLA wasn’t far in terms of mileage. It is just the traffic that makes the commute long.

Sofia Gevorgian, a second-year student majoring in political science and minoring in Middle Eastern studies, commutes from the Valley. She said commuting was a choice she was lucky to make because she lives close enough to campus that sharing a space with three others is not worth it, especially compared to the comfort of home.

Samantha Elizabeth Sanchez-Salas, a third-year transfer student majoring in political science and hoping to minor in public affairs, commutes from Fullerton. She describes multiple reasons for choosing to commute. The main reason is that she is “a caregiver for my [her] mom; I have to be there.” Sanchez-Salas also mentioned that “dorming and living on campus would bring a bit of a higher expense than I would have been able to afford.” Additionally, she currently has a job in Fullerton. Sanchez-Salas also operates a volunteer organization called Fresh Rescue, which is meant to collect and disperse “to-be food waste” to those who need it in the local community.

Isolation: A Common Commuter Experience

As mentioned, commuters often feel isolated because of their shortened number of days on campus, inability to join activities occurring late at night or during non-commuting days and overall not feeling a commuter presence.

Salmastyan said, “Yeah, for sure,” when asked if she felt isolated on campus as a commuter. She described her junior year as having difficulty getting involved on campus, especially because events and activities took place during her commuting hours. Salmastyan said because commuter students come and leave, “our presence isn’t very felt on campus.”

Gevorgian also mentioned a sense of isolation due to most activities occurring late at night. She described that most club meetings happen in the evening, roughly around 7 or 8 p.m., making it harder for her to get involved because she can’t stay late. Gevorgian was interested in intramural sports, but their game and practice times did not correlate with her commute schedule. She even has to turn down invites for dinners, stating that she just “couldn’t go.”

Sanchez-Salas mutually agrees, “I 100 percent have those feelings and sentiments,” and that is the most difficult part of commuting. Being part of the school and “simultaneously feeling like you are not part of the school at all. Sanchez-Salas can’t be involved in the clubs she wants to be involved in and expressed having to make herself more “outward” to build more connections with people; otherwise, she might have never met them. She said it has taken more effort to both establish connections and keep them.

A Day in the Life of a Commuter:

It’s easy for me to explain how a commuter goes through their day at UCLA, but hearing about the experience from students themselves is far more effective in showing their reality.

Salmastyan stacks her course load in two to three days per quarter, depending on the classes. This quarter, she wakes up as early as 5:30 or 6 a.m. and leaves the house to make it to her 8 a.m. class. Salmastyan usually finishes at 5 p.m., but that’s “prime time traffic,” so she stays an extra couple of hours working on readings and homework to “cut the commute time.” She described it as more mentally beneficial for her than braving the traffic-filled commute. On campus, there are a couple of places that Salmastyan goes to eat and relax. She mentioned the transfer center because she feels seen due to a lot of transfers also being commuters, and claims to have met a few friends there. Other than that, Salmastyan said that Powell and the Commuter Hub were great but that you generally need a BruinCard ID to get in there.

Gevorgian’s experience is a bit different as she has been going to campus five days a week and lives close by. She has an 8 a.m. that usually causes her to be late, meaning that she is rushing out of the door with some sort of quick food, like a banana or bread. However, in her own words, she said she “will not be taking an 8 a.m. in the future if I [she] can avoid it because…I can barely make it on time.” She didn’t necessarily avoid taking classes because of the days, considering political science courses often have discussions on Thursday evenings or Fridays. She finds scheduling for a commuter is difficult. Gevorgian mentioned Murphy Hall being a nice place to sit and work during breaks.

Sanchez-Salas tries to “stack my [her] classes in as little days as I [she] can,” whether it be two or three days. Her routine starts by waking up at 6-6:30 a.m., packing extra clothes in case of cold weather and grabbing extra snacks for the road. She either drives herself or carpools to campus — arriving at about 10 a.m., and finishing her day around 8 p.m.. During breaks, Sanchez-Salas might take a nap, eat in the car, hang out with friends or do some homework. She also uses the BruinHub and other UCLA resources available on campus. Sanchez-Salas describes being on campus as “treating it like a job.”

The Bruin Commuter Instagram and Events

Salmastyan, Gevorgian and Sanchez-Salas have all discussed feeling seen and appreciated when attending commuter events on campus. Salmastyan said she “didn’t realize how many people were part of the commuter experience.” Gevorgian stated she attended most of the meal programs because they were at decent times and described them as “amazing.” Sanchez-Salas adds the events usually happen on Thursdays (when she is on campus), and they offer students “free food.” She uses the commuter page to keep her “updated on things in regards to events and other possible resources.” Sanchez-Salas learned about the Bruin Commuter Parking Fund and the BruinHub pods through Instagram.


The BruinHubs were created as an on-campus space for commuter students to study and rest. They are accessible from two locations: inside the John Wooden Center and Strathmore Building. Students can reserve the pods to relax or study. The Bruin Hub contains charging spaces, tables, a refrigerator and a microwave, providing the opportunity to socialize with fellow commuters.

Fellow Commuters’ Take on the BruinHubs:

Salmastyan rates the BruinHubs a definite 10. “I think the BruinHub is really essential in helping commuters feel part of the student life.” She also said there is a “bigger sense of community in the BruinHub that I think many don’t realize.”

Gevorgian has gone to the BruinHub a couple of times and describes it as nice but full and “definitely very popular.” While it is a good option to have, Gevorgian states it is out of the way of classes, so she doesn’t “find it worth it to walk all the way down and then walk back up to class.” Having a place closer to campus would be beneficial.

Sanchez-Salas “would recommend it to Bruin Commuters who have more classes in that area.” She doesn’t necessarily want to run around campus too much, but it is a “lovely resource whenever you do need it.”

How are Bruin Commuters Having their Voice Heard:

This quarter, a new program was created for commuter students to have a voice. It’s called the Bruin Commuter Ambassador program. Both Salmastyan and Gevorgian are ambassadors in the program.

Salmastyan expresses that the program is trying to make commuters feel more seen and heard. There are about 15-20 ambassadors that address the concerns of commuters on campus. This Ambassador program is about “finding ways to do new events, bringing new resources for commuters…[and] trying to find a bigger sense of community…and what it means to be a commuter.”

Gevorgian states there are two parts to the program: one puts on events and handles networking between commuters and the community, while the other is about advocating for commuter students. The latter is why she joined. The advocacy portion includes calling for more opportunities for commuter students, such as a priority option for parking permits or having online options for classes if it is raining or commuters are running late to class due to traffic. “As a regular student, I hope we will be setting meetings with higher-ranked officials to voice these concerns and support change for commuters experiencing the same issues.”

While Sanchez-Salas is not currently in the Bruin Commuter Ambassador program, she wants them “to bring us [commuters] to the attention of the school” and “bring change and bring the community together.”

For fellow commuters who may be interested in getting involved in this program, keep a look out for when applications open again! If you have any concerns as a commuter yourself or would like to learn more about the program, check out the UCLA commuter email: [email protected].

How Can UCLA Do a Better Job at Acknowledging Commuters? Plus, Final Thoughts from 3 Commuter Students:

Commuters must feel recognized like they are part of the campus. The BruinHubs are a step in the right direction, but the Bruin Commuter Ambassador program and commuter Instagram page (@bruin_commuters) are advocating for a stronger presence for commuter students and creating a sense of belonging on campus.

Salmastyan wants commuters to know that there are a lot more of “us” than we might realize. “Once we find that sense of community, I think the commuter experience will be easier, more manageable and enjoyable.”

Gevorgian said that accommodations are often not made, but is thankful that commuter voices are being heard. She added that she wishes “commuters could pay or swipe into the dining halls to experience the number 1 dining hall.”

Sanchez-Salas thinks that we should “Extend the UCLA love to commuters as well because at times we feel like outcasts” when we should feel like UCLA is our second home.

Being a commuter is not an easy task. It involves long days, moments of isolation and a lot of traffic. But this can be improved once commuter needs and voices are given more attention. So, UCLA, listen closely to this group of students and get ready to make some well-needed changes. Like Sanchez-Salas says, UCLA needs to “shift its lens” over. Commuters should no longer be a “thought at the end of the day when we should be a thought at the beginning of the day.”

Featured Photo: UCLA commuters weave through the iconic Los Angeles traffic, a testament to their dedication in the pursuit of knowledge amidst the city’s constant hustle. Photographed by Patrick Shao/BruinLife.

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